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Gregory’s job was to investigate new helicopter designs and direct the development and acquisition of this new technology for the military. Gregory had visited the Sikorsky plant as early as 1938 and was impressed by the work being done there. During a return visit on July 24, 1940 Igor Sikorsky offered Gregory the controls of the VS-300. Gregory accepted the offer and after an eight minute flight became the first military helicopter pilot (Beard, 1996). Gregory was able to convince the Air Corps to purchase an improved version of the VS-300. Known as the XR-4, it would become the mil- itary’s first helicopter. The Army officially accepted the XR-4 in May of 1942 (Gregory, 1944).


Around


this time, Gregory was named the Chief of the Aircraft Project Section and his duties increased. Not only did he continue to evaluate new hel- icopter designs, but he was also one of the primary test pilots for the XR- 4. These test flights included bomb- ing trials, development of pontoon landing gear, testing of the service ceiling and showing off the new air- craft to senior military officials. In May of 1943 a demonstration was arranged to show the helicopter’s ability to land on a ship. German submarines were becoming a huge problem and it was envisioned that


Above: Frank Gregory stands in front of a Sikorsky XR-5. Photo: Courtesy of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum


helicopters could be used to counter this threat. The S.S. Bunker Hill was a tanker ship that had the middle portion of her deck converted to a landing area. On the morning of May 6th the ship was stationed in Long Island Sound, offshore from the Sikorsky Factory. Gregory skill- fully piloted the XR-4 between the Bunker Hill’s superstructure for- ward of the landing area and the mast and stays at the rear of the ship to accomplish the first American heli-


copter shipboard landing. Over the next two days his expert piloting allowed him to accomplish numer- ous landings using different approach angles, relative wind com- binations and ship speeds (Gregory, 1944). The Bunker Hill tests helped set the stage for another set of ship- board tests conducted two months later on a newly developed flight deck installed on the S.S. James Parker. Under Gregory’s leadership the Army helicopter developed quickly.


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